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Save Our Rideau
Misinformation From Parks Canada

Freedom of Information (not)

Parks Canada is a public agency paid with our tax dollars. Information in their possession, particularly information that is in the public interest, should be accessible. But have a look at this reply for a very simple request for information by a person trying to find out the true facts:

Request (I've paraphrased the initial request): [in regard to the proposed new fees] "In a March 11, 2013 article in the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Campbell, a Parks Canada vice-president was quoted as saying that the agency has been getting as many positive as negative comments from the public over the past month. In other publicly released information, Parks Canada stated that over 600 comments were received; all but 4 in email format. ... I again am requesting copies of these emails so that I can reach my own conclusions. ... I require only the Date Received and the text of the comments. I am not interested in the senders' email addresses."

So, a very simple request for information that Parks Canada clearly has in their possession. Now read the reply:

Reply sent by Diane Maloley, Parks Canada's Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator on April 24, 2013:

"Good morning Mr. _____,

Thank you very much for providing us with the additional information.

Further to your email, we went back to our program officers and they were able to provide us with additional information and explaining why we had no documents in reply to your request.

The proposed increases to national and the first proposal for canals were made prior to the emails sent to the account, the account was the receiver of comments. We then responded to the 'demands' for less increase and more products, those were the emails that justified the reduction in proposed fees. The question is clear, which emails were used to justify increase to canal fees - answer is none.

If you have any questions regarding the explanation mentioned above or if you require any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

Thank you very much and have a good weekend.

Canal Cuts are Disproportionate

Parks Canada (Géraldine Arsenault, Acting Media Relations Manager) has stated "The Canal reductions needed are not disproportionate. For Parks Canada, the National Office and Service Centres have taken the most significant reductions, more than three times the amount of the Canals reductions." Peter Kent's press secretary, Adam Sweet, has also repeated those same words.

This statement made by Parks Canada and Minister Kent's office was made with no supporting documentation. If we look at the Rideau and Trent-Severn numbers, we see a +20% cut. So is National Office and the Service Centres taking a 60% cut? Obviously not. Ms. Arsenault is likely talking absolute numbers (without actually providing us with those numbers). If the Rideau takes a 2 million dollar cut from a 10 million dollar operating budget and the National Office takes a 6 million dollar cut from a 78 million dollar operating budget, who is taking the "more significant" hit? The significance of the cut is the percentage of the budget. If the government doesn't understand this type of basic economics then we are in much deeper trouble than I previously thought.

We can also turn the question around and ask "what would be proportionate?" Parks Canada is taking about a 5% cut to their operating budget. Apply that number to the Rideau and you get about 500,000 dollars. If you accept the premise of the cuts (and of course I don't), then that's how much the Rideau should be cut - not 2 million dollars.

If Parks Canada really wants to combat misinformation surrounding this issue then make the details of their budget and exactly how the cuts are being applied to that budget, publicly available (which it should be doing as part of transparency in government).

The Canals as Profit Centres

Somehow, Parks Canada has got it into their head that the canals are supposed to be making money for Parks Canada. I've already commented on Carol Sheedy's erroneous (and dangerous) views on this topic (See "Heritage Value of an Operating Canal" on the Parks Canada page) and now we have Ms. Arsenault stating "The issue at hand is this - due to a 10-year decline in boat traffic (from which we get the money to run the locks), and a 10-year increase in our salary and operating costs, Parks Canada has a budget shortfall on the canal system."

This view ignores Parks Canada's responsibility to its historic canals and its own charter (see Parks Canada Responsibility and the Parks Canada Charter on the Parks Canada page). It also completely ignores the fact that the Rideau Canal is a World Heritage Site. The Rideau received its World Heritage designation in part because it is an operational canal (again see "Heritage Value of an Operating Canal" on the Parks Canada page and also the ICOMOS report page). So, a reminder to Parks Canada, the main reason you are operating the locks is heritage interpretation of the canal - it's what you're supposed to be doing with your tax dollar funding. Boat lockage and mooring fees, similar to entry and camping fees at National Parks, are appropriate, but are in no way intended to fully cover the operating costs of the system.

This type of statement by Parks Canada also ignores the fact that boats on the canal generate a positive economic impact to the local economy of eastern Ontario (and hence Canada overall) in addition to the significant role boaters play in the heritage interpretation of the Rideau Canal.

2013 UPDATE: Parks Canada continues to characterize the Rideau Canal as simply a recreational canal and overstates the operating cost numbers. They've stated "Parks Canada costs for operating the canal lockage services are $18.5 million annually. Currently, revenues from canal lockage services users are equal to 9.6% of those costs." We know that they are pulling $5 million out of the operating budget for the Rideau (2 million) and Trent-Severn (3 million) - if we assume another 2 or so million from the Quebec canals that's dropping the operating costs to about 11 million dollars. On the Rideau we can put a dollar number on the heritage value of having an operating canal - it's part of UNESCO World Heritage Site designation as an canal fully operational along its entire length. I could argue that it should be 100%, that the Government of Canada should be fully supporting its World Heritage Site obligations. After all, they chose to nominate the Rideau Canal as a World Heritage Site and that choice had known costs associated with it. But whatever percentage you pick as a Government of Canada responsibility to the Rideau, the recreational component costs are much lower than Parks Canada is stating.

Public Consultation

Parks Canada (Ms. Arsenault) has also stated "We are currently receiving input from stakeholders and elected officials, and are taking a consultative approach to this issue."

Helloooo! - entire Rideau heritage community over here! - not being consulted! The cuts are having a tremendous impact on Parks Canada's commitment to the heritage preservation and presentation of Rideau Canal and the World Heritage status of the Rideau Canal. There has been absolutely no consultation on these topics.

Parks Canada has been forced by the public outcry over the decimation of the Rideau to actually pay a modicum of attention to the issue of the operating season. However if this is their definition of a "consultative approach" we are in really big trouble. There was zero consultation prior to the public outcry this spring. The Superintendent for the Rideau Canal is under a gag order (hence no meetings of the Rideau Canal Advisory Committee which is one venue where these issues should be discussed). No meetings with any of the non-government organizations along the Rideau.

A consultative approach is when you start the process by soliciting meaningful input from those with an interest, and from those that will be affected, by the changes that are being proposed. This is not the approach that Parks Canada has taken.


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© 2012- Ken W. Watson